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Government reveals 'prevention is better than cure' vision for the NHS

Health secretary Matt Hancock has revealed a new preventative vision for the NHS, which includes a call for people to "take more responsibility for their own health".

Announcing a new strategic tagline – "Prevention is better than cure" – Hancock said the approach will transform the government's approach to healthcare, resulting in a green paper being published in 2019.

Speaking at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes today (5 November 2018) Hancock released a document outlining the new vision, which looks to shift the focus to primary and community care services – and the "value they can bring in offering early support".

The plan will utilise new approaches – such as "predictive prevention", which will explore how digital technology can be used to offer individuals precise and targeted health advice.

Hancock also re-established a number of targets the government has set itself and the NHS – such as halving childhood obesity by 2030 and diagnosing 75 per cent of cancers at stages 1 and 2 by 2028.

"Prevention is crucial to improving the health of the whole population, and helping secure the health and social care services we all value and rely on," Hancock said. "It will also boost the health of our economy.

"This Mission is to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest.

"I am delighted that with the long-term funding settlement for the NHS, there will be an extra £20.5bn a year by the end of the next five years.

"This is the single largest cash injection for the NHS ever, giving us a unique opportunity to radically change the focus of health and social care onto prevention."

Outlining his plans, Hancock said a radical change is needed in the way healthcare is delivered – adding that 10 times more money is spent on treating disease than prevention, which "doesn't stack up".

"We cannot continue to invest in the same service models of the past," he said. "We will not meet our mission with 'business as usual'.

"This vision sets out that greater focus, and spending, is needed on prevention, not just cure.

"With an ageing society and people living with multiple complex conditions it is imperative that this rebalancing happens – to keeping people well, living in the community, and out of hospital for longer.

"This means services which target the root causes of poor health and promote the health of the whole individual, not just treating single acute illnesses. In practice this requires greater funding for pre-primary, primary and community care – and support for the staff who work in these services.

"Prevention cannot be solved purely by the health and social care system alone. Everyone has a part to play, and we must work together across society.

"In the first half of next year, the government will work with stakeholders to publish a Green Paper on prevention to set out our plans in more detail."

Commenting on the announcement, professor Sir Muir Gray CBE, chief knowledge officer for the NHS, welcomed the new vision – but pointed out that the physical activity and fitness sectors will have a key role to play if the government wants to hit its own targets.

"The government wants five extra healthy, independent years of life," Sir Muir said.

"And we now know that we can prevent disability, dementia and frailty – all conditions associated with ageing – with physical activity.

"What the government wants is to keep people fit for longer – and physical activity is one of the keys to achieve that.

"What we want to do is get the 57,000 fitness and exercise professionals working more closely with the 51,000 physiotherapists in the country.

"Crucially, we also want everyone with a long-term condition – whatever their age – taking part in activity therapy. Because to get those five extra years of healthy life, it's not enough just to prevent disease – you've got to really engage with people who have already got a health condition. People with illnesses are even more in need of the fitness industry than those without a condition."

In response to Hancock's plans, ukactive CEO Steven Ward said: “In setting out his vision today, Matt Hancock has reiterated the Government’s intention to transform public health and these targets rightly focus on ‘health creation’ through exercise and nutrition, rather than a negative and hopeless focus on condition management.

“But while personal responsibility for our health and wellbeing is important, so too is the need for government to introduce smarter regulation and investment in order to address the environmental challenges which contribute to ill health and disease.

“The reality is that the UK is emerging from a decade of austerity and now faces a £1bn cut in the public health budget for 2019-20 according to the Health Foundation’s analysis of last week’s Budget.

“The secretary of state and his cabinet colleagues are already in possession of three significant proposals from ukactive which would have a transformative impact on the health of the nation and do not depend exclusively on public finance.

"These are the creation of Wellness Hubs, the Workout from Work scheme and the reimagining of schools as community hubs.

“While the vision and 10-year plan for the NHS are crucial, action can be delayed no longer so we urge the Secretary of State to push through the following proposals as a matter of urgency or risk putting more lives at risk

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Health secretary Matt Hancock has revealed a new preventative vision for the NHS, which includes a call for people to "take more responsibility for their own health".
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Les Mills
Les Mills